Using over-rate fines for important research
Yesterday, Graeme Smith wondered on Twitter ‒ that miracle of 21st-century communication that has enabled all people to communicate with their followers without having to go through the cumbersome logistical rigmarole of recruiting, training and editing a team of crack gospel writers ‒ what the ICC would do with the 100% dawdling tax levied on him and his team-mates match-fees for their funereal over-rate in the Paarl ODI.
"I hope it goes to a good charity," Smith tweeted. The Confectionery Stall hopes so too. Perhaps a care home for all the retired England captains that Smith has ushered into the cricketing sunset. I fear, however, that the money will instead be ploughed into a feasibility study into whether it would be possible for Azhar Mahmood to represent 365 different Twenty20 franchises in a calendar year.
The Proteas took three hours 56 minutes to send down 45.4 overs as New Zealand snatched a stunning one-wicket victory. The over-rate that cost them all their wages for the day, plus the services of their captain, AB de Villiers, during a two-game suspension: 11 overs and four balls per hour.
Old-timers will no doubt shake their heads in disgust and reminisce on how they once saw Harold Larwood bowl an over in 34 seconds off his full run-up whilst quaffing a pint of restorative ale with one arm and mining some coal with the other, and how back in their day, three hours 56 minutes was time enough to play a full first-class match, run for parliament, and write a hit musical about the benefits of uncovered pitches.
Perhaps these fictitious people exaggerate. But if so, it is not by much. This scorecard suggests that when Australia's Warren Bardsley carried his bat at Lord's in 1926, against an attack containing three seamers - including Larwood - and one spinner, England bowled 154.5 overs in six hours 38 minutes. This equates to 23 overs and two balls per hour - precisely twice as many overs per hour as South Africa squeezed out in Paarl.
Perhaps a good charity could be set up to examine why cricket came to be played half as quickly as it was in the past. Looking at archive footage on historical documentaries about the 1920s, people did seem to scuttle around rather quickly. I had always assumed that was to do with the nature of the film and filming equipment at the time, but, if England could bowl 23 overs per hour, perhaps the aggressive waddle was simply the default method of movement in those days when the motor car was still a novelty. Perhaps, as Lance Armstrong used to claim was the secret of his astonishing cycling speed, 1920s bowlers used to listen to the Benny Hill theme music on headphones to make them move significantly faster than non-Benny-Hill-music-listening people are able to move.
Admittedly, there are more pressing charitable concerns that the Earth as a planet, the human race as a species, and the ICC as a sporting organisation and beacon of justice might think worthy of addressing first. But once those issues have been adequately funded and solved, whatever money is left from the South Africans' match fees could be productively spent analysing how and why cricket allowed itself to be decelerated so markedly through the 1970s and beyond. If cricket loses another 11 overs and four balls per hour in the next 87 years, as it did between Lord's 1926 and Paarl 2013, it will struggle for a TV audience in the increasingly competitive global marketplace of the year 2100.
Four is a well-known number in cricket, made famous by being the number of runs scored for a boundary, the number of lunch-breaks scheduled into a day's play in the proposed "Gatting's Rules" amendments to the Laws Of Cricket, and the number of stumps Stuart Broad thinks the wicket consists of whenever he appeals for lbw. And, thanks to the recent bout of ODIs, because of these immutable facts:
● In Paarl, New Zealand's last three wickets added 104 to clinch a nerve-shredding victory. They thus became only the fourth team in ODI history to win after losing their 7th wicket with 100 or more runs still needed.
Only once in the history of Tests has a team won in a fourth-innings chase after needing 100 with three wickets in hand, when Pakistan chased 314 to beat Australia in Karachi in 1994-95, having been 184 for 7.
New Zealand also became the seventh international side to add 65 or more for their last two wickets to clinch a one-day victory, and the 22 runs added by the 10th-wicket pair was a Kiwi record in an ODI chase.
● It was also the fourth time a team's Nos. 9 and 10 have both contributed more than 20 or more runs to a successful ODI chase.
● Four is also the number of wickets taken by Mitchell McClenaghan took on his ODI debut, whose 4 for 20 were the best figures by a New Zealander in his first ODI, the best by any bowler since Vernon Philander took 4 for 12 against Ireland in 2007, and the second best by a debutant bowler in an ODI between two top-eight nations since Allan Donald's 5 for 29 against India in November 1991 (beaten only by Stuart McGill, who took 4 for 19 against Pakistan in January 2000).
● Kane Williamson became the fourth New Zealand spinner to take four or more wickets in an ODI innings. Daniel Vettori has done so eight times (but only once in the last five years), Paul Wiseman (v Zimbabwe, in 2000) and Matthew Hart (v West Indies, in 1994) once each. Williamson was the first spinner to take four against South Africa in an ODI since Hauritz, for Australia, in April 2009.
● England received less than enthusiastic critical reaction for their less-than-triumphant innings in The MS Dhoni Homecoming Spectacular in Ranchi. "Unlikely to be written about in any major patriotic poems" ‒ Propaganda International Magazine; "a disappointment for all fans of the number 40" ‒ Tetracontophile Monthly; "a merciful relief" ‒ Tetracontaphobe Monthly; "the greatest display in English batting history" ‒ The Alfriston Amnesiac. More importantly, it was the first time since 1987, and the fourth in their ODI history, that their entire top five have reached double figures without any of them going on to reach 40 ("an absolute thrill" ‒ Unconverted Start Fanzine).
The last time any side did so was almost two years ago, in the 2011 World Cup, when India's top five all got in and got out when comfortably reaching 190 to defeat the Netherlands. The previous occasion was approximately four hours before that, when the Netherlands' top five all laid the foundations then failed to pop the bricks on top when scoring 189 against India. Setting them a target they comfortably reached. After their entire top five chipped in with a few but not too many.
● Mitchell Starc's half-century in the rain-curtailed Sydney ODI against Sri Lanka was the fourth time an Australian 9, 10 or 11 has scored 50 in an ODI, and the first for almost ten years.
● Shami Ahmed's eight overs for 23 constituted the third time in India's last four ODIs - that is only one less than four occasions ‒ over the space of a fortnight, that an Indian pacer has bowled more than four overs at less than three runs per over (which equates to four runs per eight-ball over). (Shami himself bowled nine overs for 23 against Pakistan in Delhi, and Bhuvneshwar Kumar took 3 for 29 in ten in the second ODI against England in Kochi). Previously, no Indian seamer had done so in 52 ODIs, since Munaf Patel's unforgettable 1 for 28 off 10 against New Zealand in Vadodara, in December 2010. Munaf dreams of owning four jetskis, four marble busts of Piyush Chawla, and four wings, and flying four times around the world like a cross between a bi-plane and a pair of mating albatrosses.
Andy Zaltzman is a stand-up comedian, a regular on the BBC Radio 4, and a writer